What will happen when a software company downs tools for a week?

Three months ago, four Red Gaters volunteered to lock themselves into a converted barn on the Suffolk coast for a week, ate pizza, drank beer and coded. When Alex, Dom, Nagashree and Rob stumbled back into the office, they’d conceived, gestated and birthed SQL Search.

Last week, we launched the product – a free tool to search SQL Server databases.

But this blog post isn’t about that.

It’s about an idea that popped into my head after reading Dan Pink’s excellent book Drive. One section talks about Atlassian and their FedEx days: the company takes a day off, splits up into adhoc teams, and delivers something in 24 hours.

Rather than describing what we’re planning here at Red Gate, here’s the e-mail I sent round internally:

From: Neil Davidson
Sent: 28 January 2010 14:51
To: Product Development
Subject: "Down tools" week

The upcoming SQL Search release has shown how valuable taking some time out to work on side projects can be. Many people have spent much time finishing the project, but it would never have happened if Nagashree, Rob, Alex and Dom hadn’t locked themselves in a house by the seaside for a week.

We’d like to extend this experiment. For four days, starting on March 29th, we’d like everybody involved in building products (both for our customers and internal development) to down tools and work on something different. You can work by yourselves, in your current teams or form new teams – it’s entirely up to you. The only aim is to create something relevant to Red Gate that you wouldn’t have created otherwise. You can build a new product, a prototype for a product, a tool for use by another department, fix some bugs in a current product that would otherwise have gone unfixed – anything really. The only rule is that you have to complete something by Thursday lunchtime. During Thursday afternoon we’ll have a show and tell – a chance for you to demonstrate to other people at Red Gate what you’ve been up to.

If you’re working in product development you should put this in your diary and cancel all meetings for those four days. You can work from home, in the office or somewhere else – wherever you’ll be most effective.

You can take part in down tools week if you’re a permanent (not contract) developer, tester, author, designer, project manager or product manager. If you’re not in these groups but want to take part then you’ll need to get your divisional or functional head’s permission and persuade a team you can contribute.

Each team will have a discretionary budget of £500 for hardware / software / other stuff we don’t already have in the building (but please check first).

Ideally you’ll have a clear idea of how you’ll spend the four days before they actually arrive.


Down tools week doesn’t start for a while, but merely announcing it has produced extraordinary results. The forum post announcing it has been read 1,350 times (that’s almost ten views for every person in the company). It has 64 replies. People are hyped. Ideas are flowing. Stuff is happening.

I’m not entirely sure what the outcome will be. I’m hoping that we’ll end up with a slew of prototyped ideas and a bunch of happy people. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more hard work until we can turn those embryonic proofs of concept into living, breathing, releasable software, but it will be worth it. Whatever happens, it will be fun. Even more importantly – and this is what it’s all about – we’re doing the right thing.

I’ll write up the results once the week is over.

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